Obama's Gay Rights Evolution Is on Hold

The Atlantic Wire
Obama's Gay Rights Evolution Is on Hold
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Obama's Gay Rights Evolution Is on Hold

In February of last year, when White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters President Obama was still "evolving" on the issue of gay marriage, it was an implicit signal to gay rights advocates that the president was coming around to their side. Now it appears that "evolution" process is on hold. On Thursday, the president told a gathering of lobbyists and advocates that he wasn't going to issue an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people—a decision that infuriated gay rights activists. The principal question being: How does this fit into the president's evolutionary trajectory? In his progression, you'll notice a hiccup: 

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2008 Just prior to his ascension to the White House is probably a good time to start the evolution watch, and in August of 2008, candidate Obama came out against gay marriage, telling Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman." 

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2009 In June, in the White House,  President Obama signed a referendum giving same-sex partners who are federal employees the ability to receive benefits. It was his first major initiative but it came short of offering partners full health care coverage. In August of that year, Obama posthumously gave Harvey Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

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2010 In December, Obama thrilled gay rights supporters and repealed the Clinton-era military policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the military. In the same year, he said his personal views on gay marriage were "evolving."

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2011 In February, the Obama administration announced the Justice Department would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the law passed by Congress defining marriage as a partnership between a man and a woman. That same month, Carney assured supporters the president was still "evolving" when asked about marriage equality. 

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2012 Just in time for the election, here's where you're seeing a pause, and The New York Times editorial board and others are letting him know it. In today's paper, The Times calls his decision on the executive order a "sin of omission." "His hesitation to ban gay bias by government contractors, like his continued failure to actually endorse the freedom to marry, feels like a cynical hedge," wrote the paper.

Since Obama supports legislation that would effectively do the same thing as the executive order, pretty much everyone acknowledges this is about the election, which The Washington Post's Aaron Blake reports, has many Democratic strategists in agreement. "According to Fix interviews with more than half-dozen Democratic strategists, basically nobody in Obama’s party is expecting him to make the switch before the election. And even supporters of gay rights suggest the timing might be wrong," wrote Blake. Democratic strategist Joe Trippi told him “I don’t expect him to change his position at this point," which probably helps to explain why the president isn't moving on the executive order right now. Evolution takes time.

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